Day 206: A Spot of Heroism

 The facts

Since the train journey began he had pretended that he was a spy travelling disguised through an enemy country (none of the other people in the carriage suspected him), a general on his way to the war (the other people in the carriage were his staff), a circus man travelling with his show (the large man with the long nose was an elephant and the woman in the black satin coat was a performing seal) and a wizard, who, by a wave of his wand, made trees, fields, telegraph posts skip to his bidding.

  • Number: 18.10
  • Published: 1936 (same year in magazine form, originally titled William the Hero)
  • Book: Sweet William
  • Synopsis: William carefully cultivates an image as a crime-fighting hero.


The Browns need a temporary respite from William, so he is put on a train to the seaside to stay with an old schoolfriend of his mother’s.

After his various imaginary exploits begin to pall, he looks for more tangible forms of entertainment, and eventually decides to experiment with the emergency brake. He wonders whether pulling it just a little bit will only slow the train down a little bit.

William began to recount his exploit vaingloriously and with many additions. He described how a ferocious ruffian had suddenly begun to threaten him in a railway carriage and how, after a tremendous tussle, he had managed to overpower him and pull the communication-cord.

It doesn’t. It stops the train. But William gets away with it because the sudden lurch saves a fellow passenger from a particularly menacing mugger – the passenger assumes that William espied the confrontation and bravely and pluckily intervened. William arrives in the seaside resort as a hero, interviewed by the local newspaper, receiving reward money, being unable to walk anywhere without being asked for an autograph.

Unfortunately, he then feels compelled to engage in yet more heroism, if necessary by manufacturing a few situations. And he somewhat overdoes it.